Just over seven weeks ago, Bob Vander Plaats announced that he would begin raising money and building a grassroots organization for his third attempt to win the Republican nomination for Governor. On Friday, Team Vander Plaats allowed TheIowaRepublican.com an up close look inside his campaign as the candidate campaigned in Cedar Rapids.
The day began long before Vander Plaats’ 1998 GMC Suburban picked me up at the abandoned truck stop at exit 197 near Brooklyn. At 7 a.m., the campaign team held its weekly conference call, which was followed up by Vander Plaats talking to a couple of his business clients. Vander Plaats is the President of MVP Leadership, a strategic planning, executive mentorship, personal inspiration, fund development, and succession planning business.
Later that morning, Vander Plaats taped an episode of Iowa Press, which aired on Iowa Public Television this past weekend. You can watch the video or read the transcript of his visit by clicking here. Vander Plaats then had lunch with the Editor of the Des Moines Register, Carolyn Washburn, before heading to eastern Iowa for the rest of the day.
As we made our way to Cedar Rapids, we talked about Vander Plaats’ 2002 campaign, where he was basically unknown, but managed to get almost 32% of the vote in a very tight three person contest. We also discussed his 2006 campaign, which he ended before the primary to join Jim Nussle on the ticket as the Lt. Governor nominee.
Vander Plaats said that the 2006 gubernatorial primary was dividing the people and the party. He said the decision to end his campaign before the primary was one of the toughest decisions he has had to make. In fact, Vander Plaats told me, “It was the most un-Vander Plaats decision ever.”
When talking about his 2010 campaign, Vander Plaats believes his previous attempts are a strength rather than a weakness. He admits that in 2002, and even 2006, he was relatively unknown, but being Nussle’s running mate and being involved in Mike Huckabee’s 2008 caucus campaign has opened more doors than he would have ever imagined possible.
Vander Plaats believes Iowans respect hard work and perseverance and look at him as someone who is trying to provide leadership to our state, not just as person trying to add another accomplishment on a resume. He says that there is no such thing as a perfect candidate and he certainly is not perfect, but he wants to “finish what he started.”
Vander Plaats acknowledged that some criticize his campaign for not being more aggressive out of the gate. He said that he could be at the capitol every week speaking out against various issues, but said he wanted to respect the new Republican leaders in House, Senate, and state party. Instead, Vander Plaats is focused on building a state-wide organization and raising money, which he believes are the keys to building a winning campaign.
Our first stop in Cedar Rapids was a press conference announcing Peter Teahen as the campaign chairman for Linn County. Teahen ran for Congress in 2008, but narrowly lost the second district primary to Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks. While Teahen was unsuccessful, he was able to garner almost 67% of the vote in Linn County. Teahen is recognized for his work responding to various disasters with the American Red Cross.
After the press conference, Vander Plaats and his finance director had a meeting with a prominent Cedar Rapids businessman who is helping the campaign raise money in the area. On our way there, I asked Vander Plaats if this individual is a previous donor. He informed me that this individual did not support his 2002 or 2006 campaigns.
The final stop of the day was a Conservative Coalition of Iowa event. The meeting was organized by former U.S. Senate Candidate Christopher Reed. Nearly 70 people packed into a basement room at the Longbranch Hotel in Cedar Rapids to watch Glenn Beck’s “We Surround Them” TV special.
After the group watched the television special, State Representative Renee Schulte, State Senator David Hartsuch, and Vander Plaats spoke. In his keynote speech, Vander Plaats focused on leadership. He told the story about how his father, John Vander Plaats, graduated high school at the age of 74 in 2000. Bob’s father was one of twelve WWII Veterans who graduated that day.
Vander Plaats then told the audience that his father would never tell him about his WWII experience.
His father participated in the invasion of Iwo Jima, which Vander Plaats never knew until his High School graduation. After the ceremony, Vander Plaats convinced his father to let him record his story about WWII. At the end of that interview, John’s advice to his grandkids and great grandkids was “Love this country, Serve this country, Give your life for this country if you have to. Defend this country, and you start by Defending our country on your knees every night.”
Vander Plaats then recounted a story about his oldest son Hans. Hans was the TV athlete of the week a few years ago, and when asked by the sportscaster how he can take his game to a different level, he said he writes his brother’s name, Lucas, on the inside of his basketball shoes. Lucas is severely disabled, and will never be able to run the court, shoot a basket, or make the winning shot. Hans said he had to give it his all since he gets the opportunity to play, and his brother never would.
Vander Plaats concluded his speech by telling the audience “I believe the best days are ahead of us, because once you have seen the dark, you don’t want to go there.” He asked those in attendance to accept the challenge of his father and be a great generation. He then asked them to accept the challenge of his son and advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves.
After spending a day on the campaign trail with Vander Plaats, I found him to be very relaxed and confident. When asked if he is worried about additional candidates joining the race, he said, “Come on in, the water is fine.” Vander Plaats’ confidence comes from his previous experiences in running and the faith he has in the people organizing on his behalf.
In addition to Teahen in Linn County, Vander Plaats said he has the support of Luana Stoltenberg in Scott County, Rose Kramer is Dubuque County, and has an outstanding person who just signed on to head up his efforts in Polk County. One gets the sense that with each day that passes with noone else officially in the race, the more confident Vander Plaats becomes.
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